‘He was a good and holy man’

Father Laurence W. Kennedy died March 11. “He was a wonderful, giving person,” said his sister Helen Lorenzini, of Syracuse. He “was just always there for everybody,” she said. -SUN ARCHIVE PHOTO

Father Laurence  Kennedy recalled by his sister and his  monsignor brother

By Tom Maguire

Associate editor

The valedictorian, beloved by his fellow priests and family, rated a few extra words.

   At the funeral Mass for Father Laurence W. Kennedy, tops in his class at the former St. Patrick’s High School, his brother, Msgr. James M. Kennedy, said the priests over in Rome, N.Y., told him to make his homily short. The 15-minute homily sufficed for the monsignor to express his appreciation for his brother.

   “Many thanks to Almighty God for the gift of life given to Father Laurence,” Msgr. Kennedy said at St. Patrick-St. Brigid Church in Syracuse. “He had a long life — 86 years. He was the fifth one in our family of seven children, and, almost alone, he was given a gifted intelligence.

   “When he walked off the stage over in the school, he was the valedictorian of his class.”

   Father Kennedy died on the morning of Sunday, March 11, at Loretto Health and Rehabilitation Center in Syracuse. Born in 1931, he lived with his large family in Syracuse. “It was a wild time; we were all in the Depression era,” Msgr. Kennedy said. His father worked for the railroad but was cut to one day per week.

   Around the time he graduated from high school, the future Father Kennedy read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” by Thomas Merton, who, Msgr. Kennedy said, converted to the faith, taught at St. Bonaventure University, and then went to the monastery of Gethsemini in Kentucky and became a monk.

   “Laurence entered that monastery to see whether it might be a good fit for his own vocation,” his brother said. It wasn’t, so Laurence transferred to St. Andrew’s, which was a two-year college seminary in Rochester that closed in 1965. From there, said Msgr. Timothy S. Elmer, JCL, most continued on to St. Bernard’s Seminary, known as “The Rock,” for two years of philosophy followed by four years of theology.

   Father Kennedy took that path, as did Msgr. Kennedy. Everything was in Latin — the books and the tests and everything else, Msgr. Kennedy said, but he enjoyed it there.

   Ordination for Father Kennedy followed on Feb. 2, 1957, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.

   He was assigned to Our Lady of the Rosary Church in New Hartford, followed by Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica. He also served at Mohawk Community College, St. Vincent de Paul in Syracuse, Holy Family in Fulton, St. Paul in Rome, Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse, and St. Brigid/St. Joseph in Syracuse. Other service included the Matrimonial Tribunal and the Diocesan Tribunal.

   Msgr. Kennedy, who is retired and living in Rome, said his brother retired in 2007. About 20 years ago Father Kennedy came down with eye cancer, and eventually his eye was removed. Later, he came down with liver cancer, his brother said.

   “We’re grateful he had a happy death and for his long life and for the many gifts that he had given him, mainly his great intelligence,” said Msgr. Kennedy. He also thanked the diocese and his fellow priests for helping to sustain his brother.

   Msgr. Kennedy focused on three words from the Gospel reading, John 14:1-6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

   “First one is the ‘way,’” the monsignor said. “It’s kind of a wonder how anybody follows Christ when he tells his ways: to pick up your cross and follow him all the days of your life.

   “The second word was the ‘truth.’ The truth is almost unbelievable, but the Son of God himself walked on this earth — the only one who has adequately given any meaning to what it’s all about. …

  “But the ‘life.’ What he’s talking about is the life that we’re going to get when the time comes when we pass from this life here on earth.

   “What does it mean? It means some things that we don’t understand but some of them we do. When we step into the presence of the Lord of the universe, he’s going to give this life to us because he loves us.”

   One of the great things about hospice, Msgr. Kennedy said, is that it encourages people “to not let the person die without communicating to us and allowing the person to speak what’s deep in their heart.”

   As an example of speaking from the heart, he related a story from his 20 years as an Army chaplain. One day a man got a call at work that his new baby had died. He was afraid to go to the hospital right away for fear that he would burst into tears upon seeing his wife holding the dead baby. To get himself under control, he went out onto a field and kicked a football around.

   When he went to the hospital and saw his wife, neither said a word. For about a half-hour, they held each other’s hand, crying.

   “And after it was all over,” the monsignor said, “did they love each other more, or less? They never loved as much as they did after that, because they experienced together tragedy. The Lord experienced tragedy on the cross. And he loves us very much. When we see him, we will experience it: ecstatic moment, not for a day or a week, but forever. If we miss it, we experience nothing forever.”

  Father Kennedy’s three brothers also became priests and two of his three sisters became nuns: “Wonderful, wonderful people,” said the youngest sibling, Helen Lorenzini, of Syracuse.

   Her brother Laurence, she said, “was just absolutely wonderful to me personally.” If anyone in the family asked him to do anything, he did it without question, she said. “He was a good and holy man. … He just was quite smart and loved to read. He … looked after my mom and dad.”

   Their oldest sister became a Maryknoll nun, Msgr. Kennedy said, “and when she left, the family got crying all over the place.” He added with a laugh: “I was the third one and they drop-kicked me out the back door.”

   At the funeral Mass, Msgr. Kennedy prayed that all would understand the meaning of life everlasting, and he entrusted the intentions of the Mass to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He led the congregation in praying the Hail Mary.

   More than 15 clergy members  attended the Mass, in addition to several dozen other people. “Let us take leave of our brother,” said the main celebrant, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham. “May our farewell express our affection for him. May it ease our sadness and strengthen our hope.” The bishop expressed his wish to “one day greet him again, when the love of Christ conquers all things, destroys even death itself.”

   The bishop asked God to look with mercy on Father Kennedy, to open the gates of paradise for him, and to “give him the reward of his labors: the fullness of life promised to those who preach your Holy Gospel.”